Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Malevolent Mud Makers

My thanks to Galen Kindley who inspired this post with the comment he left on my blog yesterday.

Observe the merry writer making her way down the forest path. Her pace is steady, her face wreathed with smiles. She has no idea she is being watched by a malevolent mud maker. But she is. They strike without warning. Without mercy. Slurp! Another writer stuck in the mud.

What is the mud? For me, mud is when I can't seem to move forward. Something is wrong. It could be a character. It could be a plot. It could be a combination of the two. Getting stuck means it's time to reevaluate and plan my way out; since the only other option is being stuck and never moving on. How do I accomplish this?

Characters: Every writer has to know their characters. You have to see the world through their eyes and feel their hearts quicken. You must walk in their shoes, have their memories and their expectations. You know their fondest desires and their deepest fears. Mud can occur when you've forgotten this and you've written your character incorrectly. It's easy to do, one can get so caught up in plot that characters become puppets instead of people. Go back to a point in your manuscript which is mud-free and see where the mud begins. Has a character become a puppet?

Plot: Every writer juggles several plots during the writing of a book. There's the main story line, of course. But there are countless other subplots weaving their way through the story, each with its own agenda and its own purpose. Malevolent mud makers appear when one of these plots go astray. The timeline could be awry. The plot goes in a circle instead of in a line. Worst of all is the realization there's no reason for the plot. Malevolent mud makers love plots that don't accomplish anything. Take a harsh look at your manuscript. Are you harboring a plot that is simply taking up space for the sake of taking up space? You've got mud, my friend.

Beware of malevolent mud makers as you continue down your path. Ignore them at your peril. Avoiding them is preferable, but even the best of us can be taken in by their wiles. If you do look down and see mud on your boots, know there is always a way out. It may be a quick fix, it may take time. But you will be mud-free and able to move ahead.

Have you encountered the malevolent mud makers? How did you get unstuck?


  1. I give myself "permission" to keep writing, keep plowing ahead, even if where I'm going doesn't make much sense. That's right, I put off the hard decisions for the rewrite process.

    I thought about getting a big firehose to put next to my desk to blast away the mud. Sure, everything might get soaked, but at least I wouldn't be stuck anymore.

  2. Malevolent mud makers! I've run into a few of those before. Great tips for avoiding them.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Alan; I worry about wet computers.

    Elizabeth; I think all of us have. Be vigilant. They're out there. Lurking.

  4. Elspeth - Ah! It's good to know I'm not the only one who's been victimized by the Malevolent Mud Makers. They lurk everywhere, I think. I like your ideas for dealing with that particular pest : ). When it happens to me, I find that it helps to do as you do, and go back and start over. I find that the Delete key can be a helpful weapon agains the MMM. Sometimes, I get "unstuck" when someone says something inspiring to me. That actually happened to me yesterday so today, I'm cleaning off my writing shoes : ).

  5. Good question. I think I start making mud pies.

  6. Great post, again!
    When I'm stuck I tend to walk away for a little bit, and think about why I am stuck. Often I can solve the problem with this time away.

  7. "...plot that is simply taking up space for the sake of taking up space? You've got mud, my friend..."

    Well said!

    Juggling several plot lines and/or background plotys that fill up the pages can ruin a book. You have to be ruthless and curt them out... and this is hard, hard, hard. Especially if the thread involves dialogue you're really proud of, or if it features some of your best evocative writing.

    No matter.

    Take it out.

    Mud makers are indeed malevolent, they kill a story and can make the reader walk away. This doesn't only happen when it's a gratuitous plot line quite divorced from the main story, but even with tangentially related plots and sub-plots, you can confuse the reader and thus alienate him or her.

    Thanks, Jill
    "Blood and Groom" is now in stores!

  8. Margot; There is not a day that goes by that I don't bless my delete key!

    Elisa; At least you have fun. I just get mad. And dirty. I hate dirt.

    Carolyn; Time away works for me too. Unless the mud is really sticky. Then the delete key earns its medal for the day.

    Jill; They can be malevolent, can't they? There is nothing worse than a gratuitous plot line. It must die!

  9. I'm glad you brought up having multiple plot lines. I'll sometimes read a manuscript that has one plot line. That line just keeps trudging along, with one character hauling it forward. Then somewhere three-fourths of the way through, THE bad guy will appear, like the writer thought, oops, I forgot about him.

    Straight From Hel

  10. Hmmm...mud eh? What about if it is rich nutrient mud? You know like the mud that feeds the beautiful, pristine lotus flower floating as if unattached while its long tap root nestles in the muck and slime of the pond.
    Sometimes when we're stuck we should notice it. Maybe we need to be stuck and reaching out with our fingers and toes to sensing what the mud is made of. Maybe that is some goooood mud and we don't like it cuz it isn't nice and easy - it's sort of squishy and mildly unpleasant or maybe it is tempting sensual mud that is urging us to let go of our hidebound conventions and just WALLOW!
    Sorry - that's my brain after NaNo. I may never be the same. Because mud or no - I had to keep on moving.

  11. My mud maker is me. I get bogged down in my own little world of "other things to do."

  12. I know of what you speak, the "mud makers" and I do quite well getting away from them. But the "slime slatherers" - now those are more difficult!

    Marvin D Wilson

  13. Great points Elspeth. I've got some muddy sub-plots that I've either got to wash away or mold into the shape of something recognizable.

  14. To get out of the mud, I usually try a completely different tactic, coming at the mud pit from an unexpected, surprise angle, having my characters do something I'd never expected them to do. It opens new doors, then I escape easily.

  15. My name in lights! You know you've made the big time when you get a mention on, "It's A Mystery."
    Thank you for taking the time to talk about the mud-makers. They are as I suspected they would be.
    Best, Galen.

  16. Helen; I can't imagine writing only one plot. I would think that would be very dull.

    Jan; And that is why I will never do NaNo; although my admiration is boundless for those who do! When I'm writing badly it drives me crazed. I will never be someone to write ten words when two would do!

    Patricia; "Other things to do" is easily fixed. I wish I had your brand of mud!

    Old Silly; Trust you to give me something else to worry about! Slime slathers sound as if they would be swamp dwellers. I don't go near swamps.

    Deb; Glad you liked it. Subplots can be ornery little creatures. Good luck.

    Joanne; I think you've mentioned the best approach, the surprise angle. It takes some imagination, but it works almost every time.

    Galen; Can your Nobel Prize be far away? I think not. Thank YOU for giving me the idea. I hope I lived up to your expectations.

  17. Great post!

    The mud makers in my ms threw lots of it at the timeline. I ended up rewriting the entire 1st half of the novel to clean up after them. Pesty things :)

  18. Best way to spend a holiday is to learn Hip Hop . It reenergises your body and it is a lot of fun.


Please leave a comment as I love to hear from you!